Jimmy Buffett's annual Summerfest shows are legendary. Yet, he hasn't played the Amphitheater since 1993.
On Thursday night, at least for this reviewer, Buffett's massive Summerfest parties of yore were officially replaced by the powerful, professional party thrown by the massively talented Zac Brown Band.
Now, in no way, shape or form, am I comparing Brown to Buffett. Of course, the two do collaborate on Brown's "Knee Deep." I'm just making the point that if Summerfest needs a powerful, annual performer to take over the Amp, The Zac Brown Band seemingly has Milwaukee's vote.
While probably best known via country roads, the seven-piece Atlanta-based band blends Southern rock, bluegrass, reggae and folk for a feel that has Summerfest written all over it. And, on Saturday, ZBB packaged all of its styles into one sizzling show that had the Summerfest faithful bouncing, head bobbing and singing along to every beat.
Hitting the stage days before the release of their new "Uncaged" CD, ZBB came fully loaded with its musical intuitiveness and country-rooted jams that have made the band a touring favorite.
Behind a white curtain, the band jammed a nearly 10 minute horn set before ripping through it with their hit "Keep Me in Mind." Sporting his usual woven beanie, Brown powered through the vocals and brought big guitar into the next tune, the new "Natural Disaster."
With a mosh pit of sorts in front of the stage, the band could easily flow in and out all night and it gave the show a cool, intimate feeling that worked perfectly with the sound and set that were nearly flawless. Brown's vocals were tight, crisp and strong all night as he whisked from big jams like "Knee Deep," to the softer styles of "As She's Walking Away."
The two-hour, 21-song set was full of solos, the band's several number one singles, a new, non recorded tune, three very well done covers (Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," John Mayer's "Neon," and Charlie Daniels Band's "Devil Went Down to Georgia") and even a T-shirt toss from the band during a set change.
Sing alongs happened, of course, all night. "Free/Into the Mystic" was just one of them that had the all ages crowd swaying back and forth and hanging on every word. "Free" led into another new song, "Jump Right In." Brown cued the crowd on the lyrics and the Summerfest crowd filled in like a fine backup singer.
To say the band worked hard is an understatement. Jimmy De Martini (fiddle,), John Driskell Hopkins (bass guitar), Coy Bowles (guitar, keyboards), Chris Fryar (drums), Clay Cook (guitar, keyboards,mandolin, steel guitar, vocals), and Daniel de los Reyes (percussion) powered through every song and every instrument got to shine through the show's many solos. De Martini's stylings were exceptional and his fiddle was a huge hit.
The encore brought a drum battle, "Whiskey's Gone," "Colder Weather," "America the Beautiful" and a go for broke finale of "Chicken Fried." It was, of course, the expected final song but its energy and fun kept the crowd singing and dancing right out of the Amp.
Milwaukee may still miss Jimmy Buffet's shows, but slot in an annual Big Gig show with Zac and even the most loyal Parrothead will be knee deep in Summerfest smiles.
Kudos, ZBB, on a fine, fine show.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.